Are Your Dreams Trying to Tell You Something?
Spoiler Alert: mine did!
Dream Interpretation Activity Below
Immediately upon researching dreams I felt compelled to sleep in my birthday suit. Doing so has always given me a vulnerable feeling that prevents me from being able to sleep soundly but I decided to go with this strange impulse. On the eve of my first dream experiment, I set the intention to remember my dream and to follow a 4-Step Jungian dream interpretation method in the morning (instructions below). Due to the lack of pyjamas, I expected nothing more than anxiety dreams about having to flee my burning house in a transparent bedsheet. As it turns out, this was not the case. In the early hours of the morning I sat up with my eyes half open and said authoritatively, “People don’t change. They transform.” I then immediately fell back to sleep. Luckily, I was able to remember this moment once I was fully awake, but all of the other dream details had evaporated. I think about this statement a lot and while it feels true on an emotional level, intellectually I’m still investigating what transformation means and how it comes about.
Unlike Freud, Carl Jung didn’t think that dreams were forbidden wishes that had to be disguised. Jung wrote of dreams, “They do not deceive, they do not lie…They are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and understand.” That being said, when a patient would tell him a dream, the first thing that he would say is, “I have no idea what this dream means.”* He believed that the unconscious mind naturally speaks in symbols, both personal and universal, and that the dreamer is the only person who can make the associations needed to decipher the personal symbols (while he was the expert on the universal ones). After my first dream experiment, I had to agree that my unconscious was serving up some straight truths, but things got murkier as my exploration went on.
After two months of recording dreams, I decided to review them. I had about 8 dreams written in enough detail that I had bothered to interpret them at the time. I was surprised to discover upon re-reading them that 7 out of the 8 dreams involved me being very uncomfortable in a hotel, either because it was too fancy or falling apart. More strange to me than the emergence of this personal symbol was the fact that I hadn’t previously noticed it repeating at all. I spent some time writing and reflecting on what this symbol means to me and landed on something that felt true. I stay in hotels when I’m exploring places that aren’t close to home. I thought, ‘I want to stop searching and just stay home.’ I was surprised by this realization and then I felt very peaceful. I haven’t had a dream about a hotel since. As Marie Louise von Franz, a colleague of Jung, once said, “The unconscious doesn’t waste much spit telling you what you already know.”
Jung didn’t think that dreams were literal or prescriptive for daily life, but rather that everything in the dream relates to an aspect of the dreamers own psyche. So your mother isn’t your mother in a dream but perhaps the nurturing (or neglectful as the case may be) aspect of yourself. As such, I didn’t literally need to stop travelling; funnily enough we were in a deep lockdown when I had these dreams. In retrospect, I can see that the issue was that I was searching for a new creative outlet. I was coming up empty because I thought I needed to acquire new skills (unconscious speak: hang out in unfamiliar places like hotels) in order to do so. In a strange twist, exploring the world through walking adventures has ended up becoming a creative ‘home’ for me through this blog.
While I still don’t enjoy sleeping without clothes on, I’ve noticed that this practice does tend to lead to dreams with a more ‘naked’ direct message, stripped of symbolism. I haven’t sat up spouting any mystical wisdom since that first dream experiment, but when I am sans jam jams I do tend to have dreams where a person will make a statement that I’ll remember very clearly in the morning. For instance, a few months ago a stranger in a dream told me that I need to practice using my voice more. I’m still not sure if dream interpretation has changed or transformed me or what the difference is between the two. However, these days I am feeling very at home as I ramble on the page and in the world and I’m grateful to my unconscious for that.
* Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G Jung, pg.171
Thought Experiment: Dream Interpretation Writing Exercise
I love the 4-Step Jungian Dream Interpretation Method outlined in Jonah Calinawan's blog and taken from Jungian psychotherapist Robert Johnson. Jonah does a great job providing his own personal example for each step, so here I will just outline how you can integrate this process with a walk.
1) Write down the dream as soon as you wake up in as much detail as possible--colours, phrases, furniture etc. Everything is potentially significant even if you don't recognize it as such right away.
2) Plan to go on a solo walk at some point in the day. Read your dream right before you go on the walk and then pack it in your bag along with some paper and a pen.
3) Do your walk without actively analyzing the dream or consciously pulling it up. Just take in the sights and sensations of walking. If insights begin to come up, you can find a place to sit down and begin the interpretation process.
4) If no insights come up while you're walking (which is almost always the case for me), then after you've walked for a while find a place to sit and reflect.
5) Write down your answers to Step 2, 3 and 4:
- Make associations: Write down what feelings and memories you connect with the objects, people, places etc. in the dream
- Connect the dream images to what is happening internally: What aspects of your own mind could these objets and people represent?
- Interpret the dream: After reading over your answers to Step 2 & 3, is there a message or phrase that comes up for you that feels true? It will likely be surprising and sound more like commentary than direct instruction. If you are unsatisfied with your interpretation, let it go and trust that an insight will come at another time. I often have spontaneous insights days after a dream.
6) Do a small ritual to acknowledge the work of your unconscious and integrate the message into your conscious mind. It should be something physical like a lighting a candle, doing a physical gesture of appreciation or drawing a picture from the dream. You can do this on your walk or when you get home.
I'd love to hear how your dream interpretation experiments go so please leave a comment or join the Forum Discussion.
Art by the whole family - Xavier, Sean and Kristen